Education: Fast-track academy Bill aims at tenfold increase

THE NUMBER of academies in Yorkshire could increase more than tenfold to around 300 under new plans to fast-track every outstanding school onto the programme.

The coalition Government's first education reform is the Academies Bill – which will allow both primary and secondary schools to opt out of local authority control if they have been given a top rating by Ofsted.

It will also pave the way for a new generation of state schools run by groups of parents or teachers which will have academy status.

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A group of Kirklees parents is expected to be among the first in the country to open its own secondary school in Birkenshaw, near Bradford, under the reforms which have been modelled on the Swedish system.

There are 286 schools run by local education authorities across Yorkshire which Ofsted judged to be outstanding which will now get the go ahead to become academies, if the Bill is passed

They would join 22 existing academies in the region.

The programme was launched in 2000 by former Prime Minister Tony Blair with struggling secondaries being replaced by new independently-run state funded schools backed by a private sponsor.

Academies were given powers to set their own timetable, curriculum, employment and admissions arrangements.

Now the new Government want to extend these freedoms to all top-performing schools. Around 600 secondaries and 2,000 primary schools across the country could apply.

The Bill says: "We expect standards across the education sector to rise through the creation of more academies. We would expect a significant number to open in September and for the number to grow each year."

But teaching union leaders have criticised the plans.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "I think this is really a question of more haste less speed. An expansion of the academies programme on this scale and bringing primary schools in begs more questions than answers."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The idea that maintained schools can simply decide to be academies because of an Ofsted judgement has major funding and planning implications. Expanding the programme into primary schools is also unacceptable and unnecessary."

Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the governing bodies of a "substantial number" of secondaries were likely to vote in favour of fast-track academy status, some to win greater freedoms, but more to take advantage of additional funding.

In North Yorkshire up to 56 schools could decide to opt out of local authority control.

A county council spokeswoman said: "We have always promoted school autonomy and would welcome more curriculum flexibility for schools generally. On Academies specifically, the overriding priority is for schools to maintain strong community links, fair admissions and to develop further a collaborative approach to work on anything from improving curriculum to achieving efficiencies."

In Leeds there are 36 outstanding schools which could become academies. A spokeswoman for Education Leeds said: "We are delighted to have so many outstanding schools in Leeds. We will continue to support these schools to help them give their children and young people an excellent education and start in life, however they choose to be governed in the future."

The plans for parent-led schools with academy freedoms was a central part of the Conservative's election manifesto.